DRC TO ELEC­TIONS: GO? AN­OTHER WEEK

Yet an­other post­pone­ment serves only to heighten voter frus­tra­tion in an al­ready tense en­vi­ron­ment and cast doubt on a cred­i­ble out­come

CityPress - - News - AU­GUS­TINE MUKOKA [email protected]­press.co.za

The de­ci­sion to post­pone the al­ready re­peat­edly de­layed pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) means the coun­try’s cit­i­zens can­not de­cide on their next leader to­day. Its nearly 40 mil­lion vot­ers will have to wait pa­tiently for an­other week to par­tic­i­pate in this cru­cial event.

At least, that was the ver­sion of­fered by the In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion, or Ceni, on Thurs­day when it an­nounced the de­lay.

Cit­ing ob­sta­cles that ranged from an out­break of the deadly Ebola virus to mili­tias ter­ror­is­ing parts of the coun­try and a lack of elec­toral equip­ment – a ma­jor por­tion of which was de­stroyed in a mys­te­ri­ous in­ferno at the Ceni ware­house in the cap­i­tal, Kin­shasa, on De­cem­ber 13 – the elec­toral body found it fit to de­lay the poll till next Sun­day.

Corneille Nan­gaa, the head of the elec­toral com­mis­sion, who had pre­vi­ously de­clared that the DRC would hold elec­tions “come rain or shine”, said tech­ni­cal chal­lenges had forced the com­mis­sion to post­pone the poll.

The gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila (47) re­jected fi­nan­cial and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port of­fered by both the UN and the EU to help or­gan­ise the elec­tion, say­ing the coun­try was ca­pable of man­ag­ing on its own.

The fire that swept through a Kin­shasa elec­tion de­pot 10 days ago de­stroyed an es­ti­mated 80% of the vot­ing ma­chines and bal­lot boxes needed to stage the vote for the pop­u­la­tion in the cap­i­tal – which con­trib­utes at least 10% of the na­tional voter av­er­age. This was part of Nan­gaa’s ex­pla­na­tion for the poll’s de­lay.

Fol­low­ing the blaze, the op­po­si­tion and the rul­ing party ac­cused each other of sab­o­tage, with Mar­tin Fayulu, leader of La­muku – the op­po­si­tion’s joint coali­tion group – say­ing it was im­pos­si­ble for an in­sti­tu­tion that was un­der a pres­i­den­tial se­cu­rity de­tail to be torched by pri­vate cit­i­zens.

Fayulu and his sup­port­ers went on to ac­cuse the gov­ern­ment of de­lib­er­ately start­ing the fire in or­der to frus­trate the elec­tion process.

But the rul­ing party hit back, ac­cus­ing the op­po­si­tion of de­stroy­ing the vot­ing ma­te­ri­als. They based this on the fact that the op­po­si­tion had de­nounced the vot­ing ma­chines ear­marked for Kin­shasa as easy for au­thor­i­ties to ma­nip­u­late and, as a re­sult, had wanted them de­stroyed.

KA­BILA’S DE­PAR­TURE

If the out­go­ing pres­i­dent had his way, these elec­tions would not go ahead. In the past 20 years in which Ka­bila’s fam­ily has held power – three of them un­der the lead­er­ship of his late fa­ther, Lau­rent-Désiré Ka­bila – the DRC has re­mained im­pov­er­ished, de­spite the cen­tral African na­tion be­ing rich in nat­u­ral re­sources.

Ka­bila and his of­fi­cials have been ac­cused of loot­ing the coun­try, but he has dis­missed these al­le­ga­tions as base­less and false.

How­ever, crit­ics sug­gest that this is the main rea­son he wants to hold on to the pres­i­dency.

Ka­bila has in­di­cated that he is not go­ing any­where. “Any­thing is pos­si­ble in life and in pol­i­tics,” was his re­sponse when a jour­nal­ist re­cently asked him about a pos­si­ble come­back.

And he is not look­ing any fur­ther than 2023. This may ex­plain his de­ci­sion to pick for­mer in­te­rior min­is­ter Em­manuel Ra­mazani Shadary – a sur­prise choice as Shadary is a lit­tle-known loy­al­ist. Spec­u­la­tion is rife that Shadary will merely warm the pres­i­den­tial seat to over­come a con­sti­tu­tional hur­dle that pre­vents any­one from hold­ing a life pres­i­dency.

For two years, Ka­bila has dilly-dal­lied, shift­ing from one po­si­tion to an­other, as to whether he would seek a third term.

He de­layed elec­tions in the hope of buy­ing time. Fi­nally, he suc­cumbed to do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to re­spect the coun­try’s Con­sti­tu­tion, which lim­its pres­i­den­tial terms to two.

In of­fice since 2001, Ka­bila led the DRC through a tran­si­tion pe­riod that de­liv­ered the first demo­cratic elec­tion in 2006 and was re-elected five years later in 2011, which marked the end of his two-term man­date.

The longer Ka­bila stayed in power, the less in­clined he be­came to step down when the time came. But var­i­ous chal­lengers for the pres­i­den­tial of­fice have since emerged.

For­mer Katanga gover­nor Moïse Ka­tumbi has been a lead­ing pro­po­nent of Ka­bila’s exit af­ter his two terms ex­pire. The as­ser­tion forced Ka­tumbi, who owns the Con­golese foot­ball club TP Mazembe, into ex­ile af­ter au­thor­i­ties tar­geted him. He has since been barred from con­test­ing the polls, as has ex-war­lord Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The two po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights have since thrown their weight be­hind Fayulu, fol­low­ing a meet­ing of op­po­si­tion par­ties in Geneva in Novem­ber.

Seven op­po­si­tion lead­ers – in­clud­ing Fe­lix Tshisekedi, Vi­tal Kamerhe, Adolphe Muz­ito, Freddy Matun­gulu, Ka­tumbi and Bemba – met on Novem­ber 11 and elected Fayulu as their coali­tion’s op­po­si­tion can­di­date.

How­ever, within 24 hours of the Geneva ac­cord, Tshisekedi and Kamerhe aban­doned the agree­ment, claim­ing a re­volt among their party’s grass­roots mem­bers.

The two went on to sign an agree­ment in Nairobi, with Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democ­racy and So­cial Progress, as the flag car­rier.

Ka­tumbi, Bemba, Muz­ito, Matun­gulu and Fayulu up­held the Geneva agree­ment and sprung into cam­paign ac­tion un­der the name, La­muka – a Swahili term loosely trans­lated as “wake up”.

FAYULU IN THE THREE-HORSE RACE

On a level play­ing field, the DRC elec­tion would be a three-horse race, lean­ing to­wards an op­po­si­tion win.

Tshisekedi (55), who draws his le­git­i­macy and po­lit­i­cal strength from his late fa­ther, Éti­enne – a long-stand­ing op­po­si­tion leader – is com­mand­ing good sup­port, al­beit in only one re­gion. His largest base is in his na­tive Kasaï re­gion, where he is as­sured of har­vest­ing healthy num­bers, par­tic­u­larly in Mbuji-Mayi and Kananga. He is also guar­an­teed of some good num­bers in Kin­shasa, where au­thor­i­ties banned op­po­si­tion par­ties from cam­paign­ing.

The rul­ing party, the Peo­ple’s Party for Re­con­struc­tion and Democ­racy (PPRD), which is run­ning a coali­tion of po­lit­i­cal par­ties it col­lec­tively calls the FCC (the Com­mon Front for Congo), is re­ly­ing on the strength of this group­ing to re­tain power.

Its pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Shadary, has toured the coun­try ex­ten­sively and faced hos­til­ity even in his home­town, Maniema, as he is viewed as a Ka­bila project.

Of the three ma­jor can­di­dates, Fayulu has suf­fered the most frus­tra­tion and hu­mil­i­a­tion on the cam­paign trail. His ral­lies have been can­celled or dis­rupted by se­cu­rity agents, many of his sup­port­ers have been killed and his plane has often been grounded to stop him from reach­ing out to as many parts of the coun­try as he would like.

The sup­port he en­joys from Ka­tumbi and Bemba has given him na­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion in what has been de­scribed as an eth­ni­cally driven elec­tion.

There are 19 can­di­dates on the bal­lot, but only Fayulu and Tshisekedi pose a real threat to Shadary and the rul­ing party. Of the two strong­est op­po­si­tion lead­ers in the con­test – Fayulu and Tshisekedi – the for­mer has made marked gains in the past month of cam­paign­ing.

With the sup­port of Ka­tumbi, who is one of the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar politi­cians, Fayulu is guar­an­teed good num­bers across the Swahili-speak­ing south [Katanga], east and cen­tral Congo. The ad­di­tion of Bemba gives Fayulu strength in the north­ern and west­ern parts of Congo, as well as in Kin­shasa, where the for­mer vi­cepres­i­dent en­joys a con­sid­er­able fol­low­ing.

How­ever, the re­al­ity re­mains that the elec­tion play­ing field is un­even. Fayulu was barred from hold­ing a rally in Lubum­bashi, the se­cond largest city, where Ka­tumbi en­joys mas­sive sup­port. And in the cobalt rich Kol­wezi in the Lual­aba re­gion, for­merly a part of Katanga, Fayulu was de­nied a chance to meet the masses.

Which­ever way the prepa­ra­tions go, the elec­tion in the DRC has the coun­try on edge. The DRC is go­ing through a frac­tious pe­riod that has the po­ten­tial to plunge the con­ti­nent into chaos. Un­doubt­edly, the coun­try has never known proper peace since the as­sas­si­na­tion of its first prime min­is­ter, Pa­trice Lumumba.

The fall of dic­ta­tor Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled for more than three decades, re­sulted in thou­sands of lives lost and peo­ple dis­placed. Ka­bila’s exit comes with the same con­se­quences. If there was ever a time that Africans should unite for their com­pa­tri­ots, this is it.

PHOTO: BAZ RAT­NER / REUTERS

FRUS­TRA­TION A po­lice­man stands in front of a man who re­acts an­grily af­ter hear­ing the an­nounce­ment by the DRC’s elec­toral com­mis­sion that the elec­tion has been post­poned yet again

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